Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Review: Raising Hell by John Hartness

Hello and welcome to another hellacious review here at Sit. Write. Bleed.! Today I am review John Hartness' brand new novella, Raising Hell:

While Sit. Write. Bleed. is indeed a blog devoted to Epic and Heroic Fantasy, as well as Sword & Sorcery, sometimes something comes along that really wows me. Raising Hell is that kind of novella, an urban fantasy from the hands of a well-established author who knows what the hell he is doing.

Quincy Harker is the son of Jonathan Harker and Mina Harker, two survivors of the dreaded incident which left Mina giving birth to a child with the powers of their old enemy, Dracula. A talented exorcist and sorcerer, Quincy sets out one night to find a dead girl's rapist, a horrid crime involving a demon and a bloody end for the girl. He races throughout Charlotte, North Carolina, following a trail of blood that leads to the highest heights of corporate America and one of its devilish masters.

What makes John Hartness such an electric author is his ability to blend humor and gravity in the right doses, taking the reader on a ride as Quincy delves deep into what is a really disturbing crime when one stops and thinks about it. Written in First Person Past Tense, a truly cultivate voice comes through, oozing with confidence while at the same time bludgeoning the reader with its break-neck place. Never once goes Quincy make the reader feel lost, giving ample time to the "small-enough" details that really help build the setting into a living, breathing behemoth. It may only be Charlotte, North Carolina, but that voice of this piece makes you think Charlotte is New York, and not in a contrived way.

The points where it lacks are small. There are places where the action is a tad muted, a place where the sequencing isn't clear, but for someone who reads and writes battles the latter is incredibly forgivable. Where Hartness never fails is in his ability to keep you there in the story, his hand clutched around your neck as Quincy hunts down the things that need to be hunted.

Overall, this is a great read for those who are looking for something not too long, but not that short either. Novellas have a rich tradition in fantasy literature, and thankfully Raising Hell brings it forward with a dose of real fresheness. You would be an idiot not to pick this up!


Check out these links to John Hartness and his work:


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Until next time!

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Heroic Fantasy, Sword & Sorcery, SFWA, and Short Stories

So one thing that has been really beneficial to my career as a writer has been developing my skills in both the novel and short fiction formats. I believe having experience in both leads to success in both venues, especially when one considers how digitized the book market is today. Short stories are in the middle of a resurgence thanks to digital publishing, allow both traditional and self-published authors to stretch their legs with a sprint instead of a marathon, and believe me, some really great things come out of cross-training.

However, it would be foolish to dismiss the difficulties that come with this new era in short fiction, and that can be none clearer than Science Fiction and Fantasy's largest representative organization for genre authors (if you leave out Romance,) the Science Fiction Writers of America. This is a good site for all genre fiction authors not writing exclusively in the Romance category, as you can get a sense of where the industry is, how to become SFWA-eligible by selling stories to their list of qualifying markets, or by taking part in a really well-run forum.

But for all the nice things I say about SFWA, there is a truth for me that somewhat dissuades me from ever worrying about getting SFWA certified through short stories.

Here is that truth: I write Heroic Fantasy and Sword & Sorcery, with the latter being the primary genre I write for short fiction. I dabble in some magical realism these days, but I haven't gotten to a point where I feel like I can go out there and sell. Yet.

Now, far from accusing any publication of being anti-traditional fantasy, the main thing that bars my way is what the current markets are looking for. We are in the middle of a Speculative Fantasy boom, where genres cross, story elements reduce to more pure forms, and the line between gets very hazy.

And one thing I constantly run into is "we don't want stories resolved with swords and bloodshed. We want literary."

Which puts me in a hell of a bind in two ways: most S&S revolves itself around blood being spilled, and the definition of literary is undefinable (my opinion.)

Yet I also look at it as an opportunity.

First and foremost, to get S&S into these pro-markets forces me to think about the genre outside of the box. This is good.

Second, there are still pro-markets out there that are looking for great S&S, which I constantly strive to produce. The problem is finding them, but it is only problem if you have the mindset that only SFWA and pro-markets are worthy of your "time."

All of us start out nowhere at the bottom, and learning and mastering The Craft of Writing means getting your butt out there and submitting, getting rejected and getting feedback, and hopefully selling your work. I think in the mind of today's writer, we should all look at a credit as a credit, and nothing more. And we should all be striving to increase our list of credits.

For many of us, that leaves us to submit our work elsewhere, to places where they don't pay $0.06 per word, and places where nobody has gone before. Today there are so many new and emerging markets that want great genre fiction.

So where do you find these markets?

The easy way to do it is by visiting sites like Duotrope or Ralan's, both sites that have great oversight and are consistently updated with new submission calls. However, there is one site I go to when I want to find the newest markets available:

The Grinder

Besides an obvious affinity to the name, I really find this site to be well-ordered, organized, and dependable in really searching out the markets that are right for you. Check them out, as you can find everything here.

In closing, remember--you don't have to follow a winding path to publishing short fiction. The medium is more alive now than it ever has been, and we have both big and small outfits to thank for that. Give them your best. Publishing credits are publishing credits--go get them and get yourself a name.

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Friday, January 9, 2015

Review: The Mussorgsky Riddle by Darin Kennedy

A girl goes missing, a community left in shambles, and from the mind of a little boy emerges chaos…

Enter Mira Tejedor.

A gifted psychic still reeling from her last case, Mira comes to the rescue of Anthony Faircloth, a young boy left in a catatonic state by a secret so dark it lays buried within an unimaginable world constructed by his mind.  Entering a realm where the rules don’t apply and danger draws itself on every wall, she must contend with The Exhibition if she is to save this child’s life.

Based on Modest Mussorgsky’s classical Russian suite, Pictures at an Exhibition, The Mussorgsky Riddle is a wonderful debut and a great entry into the paranormal mystery genre. What really drew me to this story was the ability on Kennedy’s part to really delve into his wealth of ability when it comes to writing strong First Person POV. Now, I know some of you might be going:

“Well, Jay, there’s a bunch of work out there in the first person. Why is this different?”

It’s different because Kennedy wows us with vivid imagery, well-developed dialogue, and brushes of introspective genius in some of the story’s pivotal moments. His characters are varied and fleshed out so that they aren’t just tropes moving around on the page—they are real people, with real frailties and sense, something that I think often gets lost in First Person.

More importantly, however, Kennedy goes out of his way to make his main actors human in the truest sense. Mira rarely has an off-note, nor do her gallery of rogues. Without being too spoiler-y, this version of Baba Yaga is probably the best I have ever come across, and I like Hellboy. That’s how good this Baba Yaga is.

That’s not to say there aren’t imperfections. The book drags at times trying to figure out a way for the characters to go after all the plot points in a natural fashion, and sometimes it is done so ham-fistedly. Mystery as a rule is built on the three “C’s”: Creative Characters, Constant Suspense, and Connecting the Dots. In this case one may argue that there are spots where The Mussorgsky Riddle suffers from not maintaining a constant feeling that something can happen at any time, relying instead on a few cliches we've seen before like jealous lovers and attractive partners.

These small missteps are made up for with Kennedy’s ability to offer surprises in ways that aren’t forced or stayed, and they engage the reader enough that you want to keep reading, even when the story is a bit ho-hum. Kennedy is good at connecting the dots to keep us going.

Overall, this is a damned final novel. With its lush setting, a cast of unique characters, and a well written story, The Mussorgsky Riddle is a book we should all pick up and give a serious read. It will be available on January 12, 2015 from Curiosity Quills Press.

Check out more of Darin's work at these links!

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Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Honest Talk about Social Media, Publishing, and Amazon

This post might rub people the wrong way, and if it does, please remember that I am always open to a debate on anything expressed in the post. That being said, let's get started:

Nobody gives a shit about your social media platforms.

I know that is a big hypocritical statement to make, given the fact that I promote these posts with my social media platforms, but bear with me. This isn't as crotchety as it sounds.

The reason why nobody gives a shit about your social media is because, at this point, everyone else has a social media platform. The charm of these now-established technologies has worn off, been exploited by its creators, and is slowly marching to becoming a part of our lives we take for granted.

Question: how many people here actually click on all the links your friends post on Facebook during the day? For me, I click on a good number. Mostly articles and pieces of information I find interesting. I give out likes to my fellow authors when they post something about their journey or their work, but rarely do I actually click on links to things like Amazon. I do this knowing that this is done right back to me, as I will admit I am a bit addicted to posting articles, podcasts, and other eclectic stuff that I find cool enough to share. However, I don't click on every link, check out every friend, or like every post that is made. Truth be told, I don't know anyone who does.

And I bet money that this is happening to Twitter users as well. Google + is turning into a different sort of marketing platform, one we still don't quite understand (and neither does Google.) Of course, speculation is speculation, as we have evidence to contradict all of it. Please understand, I'm not going to point the finger and saying "this works, this doesn't work." I only worked in social media for so long before I left, and back then the information was even more skewed. Making your way to be effective with social media takes a lot of time, a lot of thought, and sometimes, enormous amounts of luck. I know NYT bestsellers that don't break a thousand on their Facebook Fan Pages, and probably never will. In fact, places like Facebook are so inundated with ads that a lot of people have turned away, turned off notifications, or completely ignore them.

Again, this issue isn't anyone's fault. Facebook is a generational thing, and like MySpace, nothing is meant to last forever. There is only so much information a person can take in during the day, and I don't get pissed when authors post about their stuff. That is part of The Business. However, I do think that there are authors out there, mostly of the self-publishing variety, that think a book and a platform are things you need and are things that are equal in importance.

Not so.

But we will get to that in a moment. Let's pull the camera to get a wider view. For authors, editors, and publishers alike, there is one bull out the field that nobody really wants to tame, but they are definitely a gigantic part of making a books successful in today's marketplace.

Yep, I'm talking about Amazon.

At this point it is hard to say that Amazon isn't the go-to place for the majority of book buyers, especially Kindle users, and most of the links to literary products I see hawked on social media are often linked to an Amazon page. This makes the industry very difficult to navigate for any author, let alone a self-published one, as we saw with the Hachette war where both sides came out taking damage. Authors lost money, Amazon lost the trust of a lot of people. I am still figuring out how I feel about the situation personally, but I think we can all agree that Amazon isn't moving for the time being as the sales leader of the publishing industry. With so many books available in multiple formats, it becomes harder for authors to get their work out there in the hands of readers, even the voracious ones who read at a pace that is sometimes stunning.

So let's get back to the authors who worry about both the social media platform and their book and putting them both on equal footing. Well, first off, you need to have work available to have a platform. I wouldn't be on this blog if I didn't have something I wanted you to check out. The problem I have with authors who state that the social platforms matter just as much as the book does miss as a plain and simple truth:

It doesn't matter how pretty your store front is, if there is cow shit on the shelves, there cow shit on the shelves. Beyond some rustic farmer, nobody wants to buy cow shit.

Social media does matter. It helps up communicate with each other, with authors, and with honest-to-goodness fans of the genres we all love, yet these platforms should never be equal or supersede the quality of your output.

Work on The Craft of Writing.

Work on your ability to tell a story.

These are the two things that guarantee that your work will do something positive when it finds its way onto the market, whatever way it makes it to the market. If you put out the best work possible the readers will make you. Not Facebook. Not Amazon, Not Twitter.

The readers matter the most.

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Thursday, January 1, 2015

The Do's and Don'ts of Writers Networking

One thing that I notice as I work towards success in my career is that I meet a lot of writers in varying stages of their own journey within the business. Sometimes they are just beginning, trying to figure out whether or not writing is really for them, whether it is an actual passion and goal versus a hobby, and some of them are much farther along--I've had some of them on this blog for interviews.

What always strikes me about most of the really successful ones are how easy they are within themselves, which seems daunting for a good many of us who get into this profession. Let's be honest: we wouldn't be writing if we didn't have some sort of pain or problem we are trying to work out for ourselves, as they inhabit our stories (at least the good ones.) But one big problem I see often is that writers have no clue how to engage with other writers. Networking is an important skill to have in your toolbox, so to speak, because not only does it help you make friends, but you learn from others about The Craft AND The Business. Networking is essential for success in publishing.

So, in a relatively short list that could go on for many, many, many (and I mean MANY pages), here are some simple DO'S and DON'TS when it comes to writer networking. I might include an example here and there but as always, if you have questions, please ask.

- DO meet people.

Most authors at conventions, signings, and events are there to meet the audience and communicate with them. Just because they are sitting behind the table doesn't mean they are out of reach from you, or that they are too busy selling books to not talk. They do want to talk to you, as being at that table can be a lonely business, and the shot of meeting a new friend is always an opportunity worth having. The best thing you can do is walk up and go "Hi, my name is _______" and take it from there.

- DON'T monopolize their time.

While it is fine to say "Hi" and introduce yourself, it is important to remember that the people working their tables are there to work. If you aren't going to buy anything, if there is a line, or if there is something you want to speak to them about involving writing that doesn't suite the area you're in, pick a different time.

- DO take interest in their work.

One thing that I see a lot of beginning (and honestly, experienced) writers do when they meet other writers is try to get something out of them for nothing. That's not fair, nor does it build the beginnings of a relationship where that writer will feel like they can trust you. For example, if you are like me and read Epic Fantasy, and you are about to meet another Epic Fantasist who has developed themselves a name in the business, then ask to talk about what they wrote. AND LISTEN. Maybe you'll find a new author you can read and learn from.

- DON'T talk down to them.

I see this happen so often, and it really turns me off to those writers who try to sell their work or explain how "great" or "original" it is to someone who has always ready proven their worth in the business. It is akin to going to an art show, meeting the featured artist, and then dropping in the middle of the conversation "oh, your paintings, but I do mine in oils. It is a much better medium." I've had this happen to me at conventions when no-names (which I still count myself among) find out that I have been published multiple times and write traditional fantasy. It is weird to have someone praise you mockingly about writing a genre that is "quaint."  It is disrespectful, and it hammers home the point about a truth in publishing: everyone talks to each other. If you want to create for yourself a bad reputation among authors who talk to their agents, editors, and publishers, do this. See how far you go.

- DO talk to them about similar interests, even if they aren't directly involved with your work. Sometimes you not only end up making a contact, you also find a like-minded individual who shares similar interests, and similar interests again lead to friendships. That is the one nice thing about publishing: we aren't really "competing" with each other, so there are ample opportunity to make new friends, and that is not only good for your business, but for your soul as well.

- DON'T aggravate people

This one is really a catch-all for a lot of things. Sometimes there are people you meet in the business that you just don't get along with and the best advice is to not engage them in negativity. That means keeping your mouth shut, your ears and eyes open, and being careful with how you present yourself. Remember, people talk, so always try to maintain some sort of professional image. This includes talking, working, and dealing with people you may not like.

In addition to this (which is rare for a list like this, but important), DON'T badger people. I have seen friends of mine who aren't very big at all constantly go and bother someone because they think they can talk or flirt their way into being liked enough for a deal. It is hard watching such silliness, because you realized how self-aware some people aren't. The important thing is to adhere to the first DO: Meet People, while adhering to the first DON'T--let them have their space and time to work, if they are working. If they want to hang out, they will let you know.


- DO take something

A bookmark, a sticker, something. You don't have to pay for it, but taking a bookmark or a card while offering a kind farewell is better than simply staring at their table, not making eye contact, and then leaving without a word. Yes, I've seen that. Taking something is at the very least a nice gesture in the way that it shows that you saw something they had and might check it out again in the future. Small kindnesses do wonders.


- DON'T Get hella drunk, y'all

Seriously. People will remember you as the naked guy or the dude that shit in the hotel pool before they remember your accolades (I'm neither of these individuals, by the by.) That memory carries with you until you're dead.

I want to wish you all a happy new year, and of course, if you think there is something that should be on this list that I haven't included, by all means leave a comment!

If you have time, please feel free to check out my Twitter and my Publications page! Also, if you like what you read on this blog, please take the time to click on the G+1 button on the bottom of this article or at the left. It really helps.

Stay safe and stay tuned from some 2015 news!